United States District Court, S.D. New York
July 21, 2004.
MARTIN LUTHER KING' JR. H.S. PARENTS Sandra Stevens, Demetria Palafox, Delois Blakely, Dean Loren, FOR THE SPECIAL EDUCATION, TITLE 1 AND CIVIL RIGHTS OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. H.S. STUDENTS, Watasha Stevens, Randy Palafox, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated Plaintiffs,
NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, MAYOR MIKE BLOOMBERG, CHANCELLOR JOEL KLEIN, BURTON SACKS, NEIL HARWAYNE, MR. WOO, RONALD WELLS, PRINCIPAL OF MARTIN LUTHER KING HIGH SCHOOL, BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, RUDOLPH F. CREW, SCHOOL'S CHANCELLOR, HAROLD O. LEVY, SCHOOL'S CHANCELLOR, STEPHANIE D'AMORE FERRANDINO, PRINCIPAL OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. HIGH SCHOOL, WELTON SAWYER, MANHATTAN SUPERINTENDENT, AND GRANGER B. WARD, MANHATTAN SUPERINTENDENT, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: MICHAEL MUKASEY, Chief Judge, District
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs, six individuals appearing pro se, have sued
numerous state and city officials and agencies involved in the
oversight and governance of Martin Luther King Junior High School
("MLK"), alleging violations of the U.S. Constitution and various
federal and state statutes.*fn1 Defendants Harold O. Levy,
the Board of Education of the City of New York, and the City of
New York (the "moving defendants") have moved to dismiss the
Second Amended Complaint and Class Action ("Complaint") for
failure to satisfy the "short and plain statement" requirement
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Plaintiffs have
cross-moved for an order instructing that defendants' papers be
deemed an answer with a general denial" and that parties commence
discovery; for joinder and consolidation of the case with two
other actions pending in the Southern and Eastern Districts of
New York;*fn2 and for a preliminary injunction "to
stabilize, rehabilitate and protect [MLK] students and parents."
(Plaintiffs' Notice of Opposition and Cross-Motion for Joinder,
Preliminary Injunction and Pro Hac Vice Admittance at 1)*fn3 For the reasons stated
below, the moving defendants' motion is granted and the Complaint
dismissed as to all defendants named therein, and plaintiffs'
cross-motion is denied in its entirety.
To the extent relevant here, Rule 8(a) states that a complaint
must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing
that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).
As explained by the Second Circuit:
The statement should be plain because the principal
function of pleadings under the Federal Rules is to
give the adverse party fair notice of the claim
asserted so as to enable him to answer and prepare
for trial. . . . The statement should be short
because "unnecessary prolixity in a pleading places
an unjustified burden on the court and the party who
must respond to it because they are forced to select
the relevant material from a mass of verbiage."
Salahuddin v. Cuomo, 861 F.2d 40
, 42 (2d Cir. 1988)
(citations omitted). See also 2A Moore's Federal Practice ¶
8.13, at 8-58 (2d ed. 1994) ("The function of pleadings under the
Federal Rules is to give fair notice of the claim asserted. Fair
notice is that which will enable the adverse party to answer and
prepare for trial, allow the application of res judicata, and
identify the nature of the case so it may be assigned the proper
form of trial."). When a complaint is not short and plain, the court has
the power, on motion or sua sponte, to strike any portions that
are redundant or immaterial, or to dismiss the complaint. See
Salahuddin, 861 F.2d at 42. "Dismissal, however, is usually
reserved for those cases in which the complaint is so confused,
ambiguous, vague or otherwise unintelligible that its true
substance, if any, is well disguised." Id. at 42 (citation
omitted). See also Zdziebloski v. Town of East Greenbush,
N.Y., 101 F. Supp.2d 70, 72 (N.D.N.Y. 2000) ("A dismissal of a
complaint pursuant to Rule 8(a) is appropriate when the complaint
departs so far from the `short and plain' criteria that it
undermines the interests of justice, by making it unnecessarily
difficult for other parties and the court to discern the claims
the plaintiff intends to set forth, and the factual bases
underlying those claims.").
Here, the Complaint is neither short nor plain. It runs nearly
60 pages and comprises 597 numbered paragraphs, many containing
sub-paragraphs, and still more unnumbered paragraphs.*fn4
Prolixity aside, the Complaint is largely incoherent. The essence
of the Complaint appears to be that defendants facilitated or tolerated violations in the operation of a program
for special education students at MLK. It purports to allege 10
different claims for relief under the U.S. Constitution and
various federal and state statutes. (Compl. ¶¶ 528-597) However,
the vast majority of the Complaint is a litany of vague and
conclusory allegations whose relevance to the asserted claims is
uncertain. To cite just one example, paragraphs 145 to 329 of the
Complaint describe a sexual relationship between a student
enrolled in an after-school program at MLK and a teacher in the
program, but how those allegations relate, if at all, to
plaintiffs' claims for relief is opaque. That plaintiffs eschew a
narrative presentation, favoring instead a slapdash recital of
unconnected facts, compounds the confusion. In short, while
plaintiffs indisputably allege a profusion of facts, Rule 8(a)
requires that the facts tell a coherent story; plaintiffs'
chaotic presentation is in this respect wholly inadequate. A
representative sample of the conclusory rhetoric and disjointed
allegations that pervade the Complaint is contained in the
For the reasons described above, the Complaint fails to place
defendants on fair notice of the claims asserted against them.
Forcing defendants to answer the Complaint "`would fly in the
face of the very purposes for which Rule 8 exists, [by placing]
an unjustified burden on the court and the [defendants] who must respond to it because they are forced to select the
relevant material from a mass of verbiage.'" Roberto's Fruit
Market, Inc. v. Schaffer, 13 F. Supp.2d 390, 395 (E.D.N.Y.
1998) (citation omitted) (alteration in Schaffer). Dismissal of
the Complaint is thus plainly warranted. See Salahuddin, 861
F.2d at 43 (district court was within the bounds of discretion to
strike or dismiss complaint that spanned 15 single-spaced pages
and contained "surfeit of detail"); Prezzi v. Schelter,
469 F.2d 691, 692 (2d Cir. 1972) (leave to amend denied where claim
was "a labyrinthian prolixity of unrelated and vituperative
charges that defied comprehension"); Iwachiw v. NYC Bd. of
Elections, 273 F. Supp.2d 224, 227 (E.D.N.Y. 2003) (dismissing
complaint that was "hopelessly unintelligible"). Because the
infirmities described above permeate the entire Complaint,
dismissal is granted also as to claims against defendants who
have not yet filed an appearance in this action.*fn5 In
light of this ruling, plaintiffs' cross-motions for an order
instructing that defendants' papers be deemed an answer with a
general denial, for joinder and consolidation, and for a
preliminary injunction are denied.
In dismissing the Complaint, I am mindful that plaintiffs are
proceeding pro se and thus that their submissions should be held "to `less stringent standards than formal
pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9
(1980) (per curiam) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519,
520 (1972)). However, plaintiffs' pro se status does not excuse
their failure to satisfy the minimal requirements of Rule 8(a).
See Salahuddin, 861 F.2d at 42 (affirming dismissal of
complaint filed by plaintiff pro se under Rule 8(a)); Traguth
v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 94 (2d Cir. 1983) (pro se status "does
not exempt a party from compliance with relevant rules of
procedural and substantive law").
When a district court "dismisses [a] complaint for failure to
comply with Rule 8, it should generally give the plaintiff leave
to amend." Simmons v. Abruzzo, 49 F.3d 83, 86 (2d Cir. 1995).
Here, however, because plaintiffs have amended their complaint
twice already and their most recent pleading fails to come close
to satisfying Rule 8(a)'s "short and plain" requirement, the
Complaint is dismissed and leave to replead is denied. For the reasons stated above, the moving defendants' motion is
granted and the Complaint dismissed as to all defendants, and
plaintiffs' cross-motion is denied in its entirety.
SO ORDERED. APPENDIX
The following is a representative segment from the actual
Background" section of the Complaint:
67. MLK has "Target Assistance" status in regard to Title 1
68. MLK has, for each year since Fall of 1995 to Spring of
2002, classified a minimum of 2,000 of its students as Title 1.
69. The amount of funding for said years reaching students is
more on the equivalent 500 students.
70. In addition, approximately 300 students are designated for
special education for said years.
71. Only 25% of the funding for special education reached said
special ed students.
72. The inappropriate funding and failure to deliver related
services results from the defendants' intentional failures and
willingness to comply with statutory and regulatory mandates set
73(a). Said acts began in and around 1995 under Superintendent
Granger B. Ward and Principal Stephanie D'Amore Ferrandino and
was coordinated by John Ferrandino, Director, Division of High
73(b). Said acts involved programs supervised by Burt Sacks,
funded under the supervision of Neil Harwayne and audited under
the supervision of Mr. Woo.
73(c). Said acts involved program services not rendered but
paid for and without an appropriate audit to guarantee services
were provided. 74. Said acts continued under Chancellor Crew with his full
75. Crew was notified repeatedly of said acts by Parents as was
State and Federal Officials.
76. Said acts continued under Chancellor Levy with his full
77. Levy was notified repeatedly of said acts by Parents as was
State and Federal Officials.
78. Said acts were continued under Superintendent Welton Sawyer
and Principal Wells.
79. During the period of Crew and Levy, Kim Murrell knowingly
acted with the above mentioned persons to misappropriate funding
and obstruct related services given to said Student Plaintiffs.
80. During the period of Crew and Levy, Deborah Walker
knowingly acted with the above mentioned persons to
misappropriate funding and obstruct related services given to
said Student Plaintiffs.
81. Said acts continued under Chancellor Klein with his full
82. Klein was notified repeatedly of said acts by Parents as
was State and Federal Officials.
83. On information and belief, of the said 300 disabled
students who attend class MLK about 240 or about 80% are assigned
to self-contained special classes comprised entirely of students
with disabilities or thought of as having disabilities.
84. 66% of the MLK educated special education students are
denied meaningful opportunities to interact with the regular
school population. 85. 80% of MLK's special education population is being educated
in settings isolated from the general school population for said
86. Of the said 300 students classified as "emotionally
disturbed" by MLK, approximately 50% are African American; 48%
have Hispanic descent.
87. City of New York's general school population is comprised
as follows: 30% African American, 45% Hispanic and 30% white.
88. AT MLK, there are insufficient numbers of classrooms,
89. Approximately 25% or more of the teachers teaching in
special education settings were not certified for special
education, speech and language.
90. 30% of the MLK teachers employed for instruction were
91. Said teachers were reported as being in compliance with
State standards by Ward and D'Amore then Sawyers and Wells.
92. 75% of the teachers reported as being licensed with a
Masters Degree from 1995 to 1999 did not have a Masters.
93. Crew and Levy had full knowledge of the teachers status.
94. Said students are waiting to have their IEPs updated.
95. The exact number of such students is not known to
plaintiffs but should be known to defendants.
96. The exact number of teachers who were misstated as being
licensed with Masters or having appropriate licenses for the area
being taught is not known to plaintiffs but should be known to
defendants. 97. Most MLK school-aged students have been approved for Title
1, PCEN and special education services, but are waiting to
receive such services.
98. The majority of the disabled students have been waiting to
be placed well in excess of the state-mandated period of 30
school days from the date such services are approved by the CSE.
99. The exact number of such students is not known to
plaintiffs but should be known to defendants.
100. Representatives of the State Education Department are
aware that the Board of Education failed to meet the funding
mandates and mandated timelines for evaluation and provision of
services that meet the students' needs for special education and
101. Despite awareness of these failures, the State Education
Department has not compelled the Board of Education to comply
with the application statutory requirements.
102. All Student Plaintiffs were denied 80% of their full
allotments of Title 1 and PCEN funding and their respective
special education funding.
103. Defendants have when sued in the past, have given perjured
statements concerning the aforesaid claims.
104. Defendants have also conducted a pattern and practice of
discrimination in order to carry out the aforesaid acts of
105. Student Plaintiffs were often taught by teachers out of
their licensed areas (if they had licenses at all).
106. In some cases, Student Plaintiffs were left alone in their
classrooms without assigned teachers. 107. Moreover, rapid turnover of teachers occurred sometimes
3-4 times a year.
108. Many Student Plaintiffs' related services were contracted
out to Board of Education independent contractors and said
services were not provided.
109. Some of Student Plaintiffs were `warehoused' in study
halls instead of properly scheduled for classes necessary for
(Compl. ¶¶ 67-109).